By Nicholas Worrell
Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of teens – even over cancer, drugs, and violence. In the last decade alone, more than 2,000 teens have died every year in such crashes.
The lives of too many teens are tragically cut short in crashes that can be prevented. That’s why organizations, youth, families and advocates across the nation are taking this week, National Teen Driver Safety Week, to reflect on those we have lost and to find ways to avoid losing any more of our youngest and brightest.
The fact is: we can reduce the number of teen deaths on our highways, and we must do everything within our power to make it happen.
On Thursday this week, the NTSB is partnering with DRIVE SMART Virginia to hold a Youth Open House and Transportation Education Day. Teens from northern Virginia high schools will participate in this one-day event to learn about the NTSB safety mission and hear first-hand from investigators the lessons learned from accidents investigated by NTSB. Additionally, teens will hear from featured speakers such as NTSB Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Mark Rosekind, Virginia Congressman Don Beyer, and Fletcher Cleaves, a high school athlete paralyzed in a crash involving a distracted driver.
The Youth Open House is an effort to teach teens about safer driving practices and then empower them to take that safety message to their peers. Teen driver safety is one of the agency’s highest safety advocacy priorities.
This week, NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart and many others addressed youth during the National Organization for Youth Safety Teen Driver Safety Summit – an annual event where youth gather to learn how to engage their peers, parents, community members, and policymakers in education about teen distracted driving. Youth from Family, Career and Community Leaders of America will be engaging in many social media activities to promote safer driving throughout the week, and Impact Teen Drivers will let its west coast presence be known by hosting press events and activities to educate youth and the public. SAAD is supporting the effort with its “Getting Behind National Teen Driver Safety Week” message on the effects of impairment on young drivers.
But we – NTSB and safety advocates – can’t do it alone. We need the help of parents and other adults, as well as government entities.
According to a recent NHTSA survey, only 25% of parents have had a serious talk with their kids about the key components of driving. Parents, it’s time to step up to the plate and don’t just talk about the mechanics of driving or drop them off at the driver educator – take the time to talk with them about the many real dangers of driving, such as distraction and impairment.
At the state level, one solution is graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems. Because teens have a higher crash rate than experienced drivers (those over 20), it is vital that we ease young drivers onto the roadways by controlling their exposure to progressively more difficult driving experiences. A GDL system has aided many of our young drivers, and we must continue to support programs like this.
Recognize that teens aren’t always to blame. While these programs discussed above are targeted at teens, a community effort is required to make a difference. Affecting the driving behavior and changing the safety culture on our highways will, in a large part, depend on the adults – and it will take more than just one week.
It is said that “safety is a never-ending journey.” Many are doing their part this week by participating in that journey. So will you?
Nicholas Worrell is Chief of the Office of Safety Advocacy within the NTSB Office of Communications.